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Tourists produce a masterclass in wicket preservation and determination to occupy the crease on day two at Lord's
Who says Test cricket favours the home side?
In home conditions England would have been expected to come out on top in this two-match series, but after two days at Lord’s they look far from game-ready. The batting order continues to look fragile and the bowling unit have toiled without much reward.
Nothing should be taken away from Sarfraz Ahmed’s XI. Mickey Arthur’s Pakistan unit - the undercard to a Test summer which sees Virat Kohli’s heavyweights arrive in August - have given England a two-day lesson in how to play the five-day format.
While the hosts are trying to solve their frailties, the tourists have quietly undertaken their business with supreme efficiency. They have of course benefited from warm-up matches - against Kent, Northants and Leicestershire - and a thorough workout in the Test against Ireland at Malahide.
A skilful bowling attack made the most of conditions on day one, executing their plans with precision and they reaped the rewards. They was ably backed up in the field, an area for Pakistan which has at times been laughable in recent years.
Here on day two the batsmen built on the solid foundations set by Azhar Ali and Harris Sohail on Thursday.
There were half-centuries for Azhar, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam and Shadab Khan on a day where England’s bowlers struggled to make regular inroads.
Ben Stokes claimed two quick wickets before tea and two more fell late on but Pakistan strung partnerships together throughout the day on their way to 350 for eight and a lead of 166 at stumps.
Babar Azam (68*) retired hurt
There was encouragement for Stuart Broad in the first over of the day with Sohail flashing at the third ball of the morning, but for there Pakistan did not offer a lot to the hosts.
Azhar's judgement and restraint in particular was impressive, leaving deliveries which would have coerced most into offering a shot.
At the other end Sohail was positive. There were back-to-back fours, an cover drive and straight punch off Jimmy Anderson that signalled his intent.
When England did get it right, the Pakistan pair simply retook their mark and started again. Every delivery that beat that bat appeared to be met with an authoritative response, whether that be a flowing cut or confident leave.
For the first hour England’s bowlers chopped and changed their tactics and the field was tinkered with as Joe Root’s men searched for something to happen.
That something finally came from the last ball before drinks with Mark Wood producing a fuller delivery, finding the edge to remove Sohail for 39.
Azhar cut his way through to fifty before Anderson, from the Nursery End, slammed one into the front pad.
The classy Shafiq found his rhythm, carting Dom Bess into the Tavern Stand just before heading in for a hearty Lord’s lunch with Pakistan 136 for three.
Sarfraz falls to Ben Stokes
Anderson looked threatening after the break, finding the edge on occasion but Pakistan continued to stand firm and put away the bad balls as they arrived.
England wasted a review for a caught behind, perhaps in desperation, as Shafiq’s elbow was mistaken for willow. The batsman then went to fifty, lofting Wood over slip, down to third man for four.
Alongside him was Babar Azam. The No.1 ranked T20I batsman in the world, he is fifth in the ODI rankings. Babar averages 50+ in both, more than double his Test average coming into this match.
Here he looked the part in the five-day format (other than a loose waft to Stokes on 47) as he went through to a skilful half-century.
With Jos Buttler’s return to the Test side and conversations in general over white-ball stars’ ability to make the switch to Test cricket, here was one of the world’s best short-form players showing his class.
Just as England’s thoughts were turning to the new ball, Stokes found some life in the old cherry, producing a spell of 2 for 9 in five overs before tea.
It took a rising delivery in at the body to remove Shafiq, the Dukes striking high on the blade and looping to David Malan at slip.
Then Sarfraz - the captain not so much leading by example - perhaps high on the fumes of his team-mates’ well-oiled start, got carried away and looked to take on the England allrounder’s final delivery before tea. The wicketkeeper-batsman got it all wrong and fired a top-edge to Wood at fine leg.
Stokes claimed three wickets in the day
When the new ball arrived one over after tea, Broad and Stokes were entrusted with it but England could not make a swift breakthrough.
Babar’s effort was cut short by a blow to an unguarded arm from Stokes. He was unable to bat on in search of what would have been his maiden Test hundred, forced to retire hurt 68 not out. At the end of day two it has been announced that Babar has fractured his wrist and will miss the rest of the series.
Pakistan continued to offer firm pockets of resistance with Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf playing their shots in a 72-run stand.
The bowlers’ frustrations were compounded with Wood finding Shadab’s edge only for indecision between Bairstow and Cook to see the chance go begging.
Shadab then survived an even easier chance off Anderson, put down by Cook at slip.
Stokes finally sent him back to the pavilion shortly after reaching fifty and Anderson removed Hasan Ali for a duck but this was undoubtedly Pakistan’s day.
England’s attack looked blunt at times and couldn’t create any sustained sessions of pressure or effect a collapse as their opponents did yesterday.
Pakistan were patient and resolute. On the rare occasions England threatened to dismantle the innings, Pakistan dug in. It was a masterclass in wicket preservation and determination to occupy the crease.